industrial and technological policies rightly insist that foreign
collaborators transfer their latest technologies, especially in instances
where public money is involved. However, to avoid vigilance inquiries and
parliamentary questions, the actual negotiators naturally insist that the
technologies being transferred should have been
commercially implemented for several years, backed by testimonials from
satisfied customers. The result is that projects in our public and
government sectors use technologies that are several generations behind
those of their foreign collaborators, with no reasonable chance of
of the many criticisms made by Parliament’s Standing Committee on
Communications against the proposed Sankhya Vahini project is that a major technology involved, Dense
Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM), is not commercially proven, pilot trials having just commenced abroad. In
its report dated 13 April 2000, the Committee noted: “The National Task
Force on Information Technology did not make any assessment of the
suitability of different technologies in Indian conditions. It selected a
particular technology from amongst many similar technologies without any
evaluation of its merits. The Department of Telecom Services was kept out
of the process of evaluation in spite of having technical expertise.” A
prominent member of the committee, Nilotpal Basu of Communist Party of
India (Marxist), stated later: “When we asked DTS officials whether they
had evaluated any alternative technologies from other companies, they
confirmed that they had not done so at all, but had merely gone ahead with
the decision of the Task Force.”
Vahini will implement a high-speed broadband fibre-optic
datacommunications network linking Indian universities and research
institutions. As cleared by the cabinet in January, 49 per cent equity
will be held by Inter-University Network (IUNet), a wholly owned
subsidiary of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in USA, 45 per cent by the
department of telecommunications services, 4 per cent by Indian Institutes
of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science, and 2 per cent by the
ministry of information technology. In
its first year of operations, Sankhya Vahini plans to interconnect ten
cities (New Delhi, Agra, Bhopal, Indore, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Pune,
Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai) in a ‘Ring of Rings’ architecture,
at a capacity of 40 gigabytes per second. This will make it the world’s
most advanced datacommunications network.
aspect castigated by the parliamentary committee is that equipment will
not be purchased by the joint venture according to tenders, but will be
purchased directly by IUNet from CMU’s long-term suppliers such as
Cisco, Nortel, Lucent, and Sycamore. Although there is no Indian
manufacturer of DWDM equipment, the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers
Association of India asserted: “DTS has proper guidelines for purchase
of equipment which IUNet should also follow. Domestic manufacturers should
not be neglected.’’ V. S. Arunachalam, president of IUNet, responded:
“All equipment purchases made by IUNet for Sankhya Vahini will be valued
by an independent, internationally-recognized agency following established
procedures. The valuing agency will be appointed jointly by IUNet and the
Telecom Commission of India.” Indian agents of European and Japanese
equipment manufacturers also cast doubts on the expertise possessed by
Cisco, Nortel, Lucent, and Sycamore in DWDM.
non-governmental organization, Telecom Watchdog, took the opposite tack.
It filed public interest litigation in the High Court of Delhi alleging
that the technology being brought in by IUNet was obsolete. It made the
incredible claim that the Educational and Research Network run by the
Ministry of Information Technology and the Sanchar Sagar network of DTS
had higher bandwidth and provided wider coverage than Sankhya Vahini.
the same technology cannot be both fledgling and obsolete simultaneously.
The fact is that DWDM was developed in 1996, but only now is it being
implemented for long-haul transmission.
major American internet service provider (ISP), Cogent Communications, has
just announced plans to build an internet backbone connecting New York,
Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle,
Houston, Dallas, Boston, San Jose, Washington DC and Miami, using DWDM
equipment supplied by Cisco and Pirelli (recently acquired by Cisco).
Compared to Sankhya Vahini’s 40 Gbps, Cogent’s intercity networks will
operate at just 10 Gbps, and intra-city networks at just 2.5 Gbps. In the
fourth quarter of 2000, an international carrier-of-carriers, Pangea,
plans to connect Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and
Amsterdam, again at just 10 Gbps. Pangea will purchase DWDM equipment
worth 100 million dollars from Nortel Networks. Another leading American
ISP, GTE Internetworking, plans to build an internet backbone from Atlanta
to Washington DC in the third quarter of 2000 using equipment supplied by
Qtera, recently acquired by Nortel Networks for 3.25 billion dollars. This
backbone will also be at just 10 Gbps, compared to Sankhya Vahini’s 40
Gbps. Cable and Wireless, France Telecom, Telefonica, and MCI Worldcom are
also planning trials of DWDM.
fact that major European, Japanese and American corporations have started
to manufacture DWDM equipment should reassure the parliamentary committee.
In addition to those shortlisted by IUNet, DWDM vendors include Alcatel,
Ericsson, Tektronix, Ciena, Corvis, Marconi Communications, NEC, Hitachi,
Fujitsu, Canoga Perkins, Lightwave Microsystems, GN Nettest, Bookham
Technology, E-TEK Dynamics, CoreTek, Ditech Communications, and Santec.
has several advantages over other emerging technologies. Most important,
it combines protocol transparency with very high data transfer rates. Each
wavelength traveling down the fibre can carry traffic of any type, be it
Asynchronous Transfer Mode, Synchronous Digital Hierarchy / Synchronous
Optical Network, Fibre Channel, Gigabit Ethernet, or even a proprietary
protocol. Other unique features of DWDM are very accurate dispersion
compensation, forward error correction, and Raman amplification. (Raman
amplification, a technology invented a few months ago, enables an ordinary
transmission fibre to act as one long distributed amplifier. It overcomes
previously intractable problems like chromatic dispersion and
capacities of DWDM systems are also much cheaper than installing extra
fibres. Capacities can be increased simply by adding more wavelengths via
slot-in transmitter cards. This will prevent Sankhya Vahini from becoming
obsolete and take care of growth of traffic for the foreseeable future.
bold, if risky, aspect of Sankhya Vahini is that it will be the first time
in the world that DWDM will be attempted for Metropolitan Area Networking
(MAN), as DWDM is essentially a long-haul technology. Annelise Berendt,
Managing Editor of Telecommunications magazine, cautioned: “It is now
widely accepted that DWDM is a major innovation for expanding the
bandwidth of fibre in long-haul networks. But using DWDM in MANs will
involve a new set of challenges in managing optical traffic in a complex
environment far removed from the relatively simple point-to-point
connections that characterize long-haul networks.” Bob Welch of Ericsson
Microelectronics also warned: “Managing thousands of wavelengths in a
MAN is a considerably more challenging problem than long-haul carriage. No
one has yet solved these issues.” American carriers like Qwest, Williams
and Broadwing are closely watching Sankhya Vahini’s experiment of trying
out DWDM for MANs, before they attempt to do the same in USA.
DWDM is based on C.V. Raman’s discoveries, it would be fitting if it is
first implemented in Raman’s homeland -- provided that the concerns
raised by Parliament and the press are answered by IUNet. All the
allegations made by Telecom Watchdog about obsolete technology being
brought in by IUNet are totally false. But we should be vigilant that
IUNet’s preferred vendors do not charge a high price. It would also be
appropriate if other DWDM vendors are given a fair chance to participate.
The Department of Telecom has taken bold decisions before. When it chose the European Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) as India’s sole cellular standard, the very first trial of GSM had started just a fortnight earlier in Copenhagen. Many politicians and bureaucrats criticized DoT’s decision on the grounds that GSM was an unproven technology, even in its countries of origin. They argued that India should instead go in for cheaper and time-tested analog technologies like AMPS, TACS or NMT. Pro-American lobbies also pushed for AMPS and TACS. However DoT, with strong support from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, stood firm in its insistence on the then untested GSM.
retrospect, the choice of GSM has proved to be an excellent decision.
India’s cellular networks are as advanced and reliable as any in the
world while America is stuck with obsolete analogue technologies.
Published in The Telegraph, Calcutta, India, on Wednesday, 23 August 2000, OpEd Page, titled "High Speed Systems, Low Speed Minds"
http://www.telegraphindia.com, Click on Archives, Go to issue dated 23 August 2000, Click on Editorial, Click on "High Speed Systems, Low Speed Minds".
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